May 21, 2000Hunger strike ends in Kosovo
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- A group of Serbs and Gypsies detained in northern Kosovo ended a hunger strike Sunday after a top U.N. official pledged they would stand trial before international judges.
The 41 prisoners, who are mostly Serbs but include five Gypsies -- or Roma -- began refusing food April 12 to protest being held indefinitely with little or no prospect of court action. The men have been detained for months on a wide variety of charges, ranging from petty theft to war crimes.
"We have reached an agreement that the detainees in Kosovska Mitrovica be tried by foreign judges," said Bernard Kouchner, the top U.N. official in Kosovo.
The prisoners' strike has touched off daily protests in Kosovska Mitrovica, a tense, ethnically divided city and one of the few in Kosovo where a significant Serb population remains.
The top Serb leader in the town, Oliver Ivanovic, confirmed the Serbs had ended their hunger strike.
It was not immediately clear where Kouchner would find judges to try the men. So far, only a single international judge has taken up his post in Kosovo in the 11 months since the U.N. took over administration of the province.
U.N. officials took up civil administration tasks in Kosovo after NATO completed a 78-day bombing campaign to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end his crackdown on ethnic Albanians. They have struggled, however, to establish a viable judiciary.
Some suspects must wait for months before court action. Others are routinely released within days after being arrested even on charges of serious criminal offenses.
Friends and families of the detainees also said they would end their hunger strike, begun in solidarity with the detainees.